The Best Apple Varieties For Our Region

Deciding among apple varieties can be confusing. We all know what happened to Adam and Eve. They obviously chose poorly when deciding which apple tree to harvest.

There’s a big difference in apples. Once America’s most popular variety, the Red Delicious apple is going the way of the buggy whip, sidelined by more flavorful types. We needn’t worry, because Red Delicious isn’t winter hardy for our region anyway. Besides, we’ve got better tasting types that are well-suited to our climate. In fact, we’ve got so many options it’s difficult to pick a preference.

Spring and fall are both great planting seasons to start a home orchard. Two different apple varieties are needed for pollination. If you don’t have space for two apple trees, bees will accomplish pollination if another apple is within one-half mile, which is usually the case in towns and cities. Ornamental flowering crabapples in the vicinity work well to pollinate fruiting apples, also.

Adapted apple varieties differ in flavor, sweetness, texture, ripening date and storage life. If there’s room for more than one tree, early-fruiting and late-fruiting varieties can be coupled for extended harvest. Following are well-adapted, winter-hardy varieties for the Upper Midwest, beginning with types that ripen earliest in the season, with the average ripening date in parenthesis.

  • Hazen (Aug. 25). An NDSU introduction. Large, dark red, sweet and mild fruit. Natural dwarf only grows to 12 feet with age. Keeps two to four weeks in refrigerated storage.
  • State Fair (Aug. 30). Crisp, juicy, sweet-tart flavor. Stores one month.
  • KinderKrisp (Aug. 30). New apple, offspring of Honeycrisp, earlier ripening with smaller-sized fruit idea for lunchboxes. Very sweet. Stores for up to two months.
  • Zestar (September 5). Large fruit, crunchy, nice balance of sweet and tart. Good storage life for an early apple: two months or longer.
  • Prairie Magic (Sept. 15). Yellow skin with red blush. Crisp, sweet flesh. Developed in Canada and very winter hardy.
  • Sweet Sixteen (Sept. 15). Red, medium-sized fruit with a spicy sweet flavor and rich aroma. Keeps one to two months in storage.
  • Honeycrisp (Sept. 25). Crisp flesh with an appealing flavor. Excellent storage life of up to seven months under refrigeration. Not as winter hardy as some varieties for the northernmost third of North Dakota and Minnesota.
  • Frostbite (Sept. 30). Intensely sweet, firm and juicy. Very winter hardy. Stores three to four months.
  • Haralson (Oct. 10). Longtime favorite for winter hardiness. Enjoyed by those who like tart flavor. One of the best pie apples. Stores four or five months.
  • Haralred (Oct. 10). A redder-fruited version of Haralson with similar characteristics.
  • Fireside (Oct. 15). Large fruit, sweet with fine-grained flesh. Stores four months.
  • Connell Red (Oct. 15). A redder-skinned version of Fireside.
  • SnowSweet (Oct. 15). Low acid, sweet flavor. Flesh is amazingly slow to brown when cut, making it valuable for sliced apples. Keeps four months in storage.
  • Honeygold (Oct.15). Our winter-hardy answer to Golden Delicious. Crisp and Juicy. Stores three months.
Haralson Apple

Other older, adapted types include Mandan, Wealthy, Wodarz, Wedge, Prairie Spy, Chestnut Crab, Goodland, Norland, Red Baron and Red Duchess.

Zestar Apple


6 Responses

    1. Don Kinzler

      Sweet RiverBelle is one of the new varieties developed by an orchardist in Minnesota. While the apple fruit themselves are available for sale, I don’t believe the trees are being propagated in quantities (yet anyway) that enable garden centers to sell trees to homeowners. Some of the new apple varieties are being tightly controlled through patent restrictions with the intent being to limit the trees to orchards who are selling the fruit, rather than to homeowners who want to grow the fruit for themselves.

    1. Don Kinzler

      Like many plants, it is patented, but that just means that a license is needed to propagate and sell the plant/tree. In the case of SweeTango, which has a patent, it could still be produced by wholesale nurseries for tree sales to the public, just by acquiring a license and paying any royalties. But a new concept is being used by the developer U of Minn. They have made it a “managed” variety, so are only granting a very few licenses for commercial orchards to grow the trees to sell the fruit, not to sell the trees themselves. Hopefully they will rethink this concept, and allow the trees to be propagated in order to sell the trees themselves to homeowners. Otherwise we will have to wait until the patent expires in 2026.

  1. Hal

    Is snow sweet anything like what we used to call snow apple which were good after the frost. I don’t see macintosh listed . Does anyone grow them anymore?

    1. Don Kinzler

      Many of the late-ripening apples benefit from cooler temps, as sugars accumulate in the fruit down to about 28 degrees. Snow Sweet has been newly named, but the nickname snow apple might have been used for similar late-ripening types. McIntosh apple is over 200 years old, and while still important in some markets, the other apples listed have been developed for our region, and are generally considered improvements better suited to our conditions. Thanks.

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